In the midst of United’s terrible devaluation, the value of American Airlines is more and more apparent. But less-obvious is a little known secret called AA’s Explorer Award Chart.
I’ve written a TON about crazy United award routes and it seems fitting to start doing some AA routes on the first day of United’s devaluation. The first place to start is this mysterious second “Explorer” award chart.
Okay, it’s not really a secret… it’s just not the default option. It’s basically American Airlines giving you a second option for a distance based award chart. The more you fly, the more you pay.
But before we get to the exciting stuff (examples), I’ll do a little explainer: How to figure out prices and what the rules are.
To figure out the price you would figure out the total miles flown (using GCmap), add them up and compare them to the award chart.
Take the number of miles flown and figure out what “zone” it would be priced as. And then below you’ll figure out how many AA miles would be required:
- Zone 1 = 0 to 1,500 flown miles
- Economy Class = 30,000 AA miles
- Business Class = 60,000 AA miles
- First Class = 80,000 AA miles
- Zone 2 = 1,501 to 4,000 flown miles
- Economy Class = 35,000 AA miles
- Business Class = 75,000 AA miles
- First Class = 100,000 AA miles
- Zone 3 = 4,001 to 9,000 flown miles
- Economy Class = 60,000 AA miles
- Business Class = 80,000 AA miles
- First Class = 100,000 AA miles
- Zone 4 = 9,001 to 10,000 flown miles
- Economy Class = 70,000 AA miles
- Business Class = 90,000 AA miles
- First Class = 120,000 AA miles
- Zone 5 = 10,001 to 14,000 flown miles
- Economy Class = 90,000 AA miles
- Business Class = 115,000 AA miles
- First Class = 150,000 AA miles
- Zone 6 = 14,001 to 20,000 flown miles
- Economy Class = 100,000 AA miles
- Business Class = 130,000 AA miles
- First Class = 180,000 AA miles
- Zone 7 = 20,001 to 25,000 flown miles
- Economy Class = 120,000 AA miles
- Business Class = 150,000 AA miles
- First Class = 230,000 AA miles
- Zone 8 = 25,001 to 35,000 flown miles
- Economy Class = 140,000 AA miles
- Business Class = 190,000 AA miles
- First Class = 280,000 AA miles
- Zone 9 = 35,001 to 50,000 flown miles
- Economy Class = 160,000 AA miles
- Business Class = 220,000 AA miles
- First Class = 330,000 AA miles
I like to use the OneWorld Route Map to figure out what routes are possible and then map out those possible routes with GCmap to figure out the miles and thus the price based on the award chart above.
Finding award space can be done with these websites: Qantas, British Airways, Expert Flyer, and Award Nexus (I don’t personally use the latter).
- Only one open-jaw allowed
- No partners that aren’t in the OneWorld alliance (like Hawaiian or Alaska)
- Max of 16 Segments
- “A person may stopover in each city 1 time. A person, however, may not stopover in the person’s originating or final destination city.”
- Can’t connect through a city more than twice
In many ways the rules are explicitly loose, in that they allow backtracking.
On short haul flights, for the most part, the regular award chart is the best and cheapest option. However on many of the flights, this distance based Explorer award chart would be cheaper. In fact, it’s a great option for many business class routes.
But the best part about these awards are that they allow for unlimited stopovers. Which is pretty darn cool.
So let’s get into it.
US to India
Coming from the east coast this makes a lot of sense.
New York to India via Europe
I’ve run this many ways and it’s always in “zone 6” which is 100,000 miles in economy, 130,000 for business, and 160,000 for first class.
Compare this to AA’s normal prices to Central Asia 90,000 economy, 135,000 business class and 180,000 first class.
This is hugely cheaper on everything but economy. But even in Economy you wouldn’t be able to stopover in Europe with AA’s normal price. And not only can you stopover in Europe, you can pretty much stop as many places as you want as long as you’re under 16 segments total.
For example you could do:
New York to Paris, to Vienna, to Athens, to Amman, to Delhi, to Helsinki, to Warsaw, to Dusseldorf, to Madrid, to New York
Or you could perhaps, hop the pacific on the way home.
New York to Paris to Vienna, to Athens, to Amman, to Delhi, to Bangkok, to Hong Kong, to Tokyo, to JFK
And from the west coast you may be able to get to Delhi for the same price via Asia but can’t really go into SE Asia as much as Japan and China.
Heck yes. If you’re going to Central Asia, especially from the east coast, this is a heck of a deal. And if you like to fly premium cabin, this will actually save miles!
US to Europe
A trip from the east coast of the US to Europe could likely be under 10,000 flown miles, making it 70,000 instead of 60,000 miles with the normal award chart. But given the price of transport in Europe, the 10,000 miles extra is surely worth it for the chance to have unlimited stopovers.
So you could do Chicago to New York, to Dublin, to Vienna, to Paris, to Chicago for 9,754 flown miles and it would cost 70,000 AA miles.
Remember you can stopover at every connection. You could spend a week in Dublin, a week in Vienna (I love Vienna ), a week in Paris and a few days in New York if you wanted to.
NYC to Paris, to Vienna, to Zakynthos, to Zurich, to Dusseldorf, to NYC.
Having been to all those places (except Zurich)… this is a pretty cool route that costs only an extra 10,000 AA miles.
West Coast Prices
However, the problem with distance based is that it tends to favor one region. In this case the East Coast. If you were starting in LA on either route it would be a “zone 5” costing 90,000 miles.
Even starting from Dallas or somewhere in the mid-west would be 90,000 miles. However you could probably get more creative with a Dallas route. For example you could do:
Dallas to JFK, to Paris, to Helsinki, to Zurich, to Vienna, to Rome, to Dusseldorf, to Chicago, to Dallas.
Again, you can stop at every point and it would cost 90,000 miles. So it’s an extra 30,000 miles from the standard award.
But what I’ve yet to mention is that these routes in business are cheaper with the Explorer award, yet again.
On the normal award chart business class is 100,000 miles and 125,000 for first.
But with the explorer awards, zone 4 (as with the first examples) is 90,000 for business class and 120,000 miles for first. With these east coast examples, you’ll find that choosing the explorer award will save miles if you fly business or first.
Economy? Depends. That many stopovers… would be seriously epic. However, if you’re going from Oct 15 to May 15, then you could do it for 40,000 miles roundtrip with their “off-peak” prices. 40,000 is a lot cheaper than 70k or 90k. In summer however… totally worth it. Trains in Europe are more expensive and longer than you think.
Is Premium cabin worth it? Duh, you’d save miles.
US to SE Asia
This is a huge jump in price but also in value. You can get a trip to Asia for 100,000 miles in economy, or 130,000 in business class.
But you can cover a lot more ground… or air… for the same price.
Vancouver to Tokyo, to Tapei, to Hong Kong, to Bali, to Kuala Lumpur, to Bangkok, to Hong Kong, to Vancouver.
All that for 100,000 miles and a nearly 2,000 flown miles yet to spare.
So compare that to a normal price of 70,000 miles. But also compare how much it would cost to do a roundtrip from Japan to Bali. Sure you could do it in two tickets for a similar price with United. But the AA routing has a few advantages:
- Better award prices for premium cabin
- Better availability with OW airlines (like Cathay and Malaysia than Singapore and Thai) across the Pacific
- Again, unlimited stopovers
Southeast Asia and China would normally be 110,000 miles for business or 135,000 miles for first.
With the explorer award for “zone 6”, you can do business class for 130,000 and first for 180,000. So on this one you don’t save miles.
Is it worth it?
It sure is a great deal if you want to see all those places. However, there are really two groups of people that would especially benefit from an explorer award here:
People who live on the west coast, and people with tons of time.
But even then, many of the awards to SE Asia are going to be hard to keep under 20,000 flown miles and in zone 6. So it may be a little idealistic.
US to South America
In general, the same concept applies to South America. If you live in the south, you can get to Chile for 70,000 miles.
If you have a ton of time and are going to Chile and everywhere in between, and are starting from Miami… then probably.
If you’re going to Lima, then that could only be 30,000 to 35,000 miles.
US to South Pacific
Particularly Australia is a far away destination and on the regular award chart it’s 75k/125k/145k (economy/business/first). So let’s compare it to the explorer awards.
Chicago to Hawaii, to Sydney, to Chicago would be 18,500 flown miles and a zone 6.
This means that it would cost 100K/130k/180k.
In terms of business class it’s extremely comparable to the normal price. However, with a regular award, you could get a stopover in Hawaii anyways. And there’s not enough room left to get to New Zealand or even Cairns. So you could add Melbourne but not much else.
Not really. Only if you’re flying business and need another stop near Sydney.
Asia via Europe, which is very common with Star Alliance options like United and US Airways is incredibly expensive with AA Explorer chart, and stopovers aren’t really possible with their other chart. Thus, 120,000 miles for economy, is not really worth it when you can still get it for 70,000 miles with United.
However, again, the huge advantage here is the unlimited stopovers. If this is an around the world trip and will include a ton of stops… go ahead.
Part of me says AA Off-Peak prices are just too darn hard to beat. And then the other part of me loves stopovers. But if you fly premium cabins like Business and First… this is a killer deal on some routes. Particularly to India via Europe. The unlimited stopovers and saving miles is just awesome.